Trinity 12 – August 13/14th, 2016 – Mark 7:31-37
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I don't know Pastor Brown! You said last week that we'd be talking about “being justified” for a few weeks here, and then we had a healing in our Gospel lesson. That's not some fancy-schmacy justification text – in fact, I didn't hear the word “justified” one single cotton picking time in any of those readings. And you're partially right... you didn't. At least not directly. But if you will, be patient, and let me lay some justification ground work here. To be made just is the same idea, the same word in Greek, in fact, as to be made “righteous”. In our Epistle lesson, Paul speaks of a ministry of righteousness. Same idea. What Paul preaches, his ministry is given to make people righteous, to make them justified, to make them forgiven and clean and perfect. It is a ministry of life – one that gives life. The Spirit gives life – we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life. So all this language in the Scriptures of justified, righteous, forgiven, holy, life – it all boils down to this. God, in His love for you, fixes sin and its impacts. He justifies you, He makes things right again. Everything He does drives to this idea of fixing, restoring, making folks who have been ravaged by sin right again. And that is why, dear friends, our Gospel text is most certainly about justification, about righteousness – about the Just and righteous Christ bringing justification and righteousness with Him. Listen.
[Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay a hand on Him. Now, today, when we hear of this fellow, we want to think, “What's wrong with his ears? What causes the speech impediment – is it neurological, is it something structural?” We look at things in a very, blunt, earthly, materialistic way. It's just something physical. But one of the things that they understood in the ancient world is that these physical problems that we see aren't utterly detached from spiritual realities. They understood the idea of the Fall – that because of sin and wickedness, all sorts of problems and evils were unleashed upon the world. They understood that the wages of sin was death – that sin meant that in this world things were going to break down and fall apart and not work right – and that when you saw someone whose ears didn't work, whose mouth didn't work – this wasn't just a physical problem for some sort of medical craftsman to fix. It pointed to a greater spiritual problem, it reminded everyone of the condition of sinful man. Which is why, even these people in the Decaoplis, the pagan cities on the far side of the Sea of Galilee figure that maybe this Jesus, maybe this Holy, Spiritual Man, can do something for this deaf fellow.
So picture it in your mind – you have Jesus come into town, and they've heard the rumors about Jesus. It was just south of them where Jesus had cast out a bunch of demons – cast them into the pigs. They've heard other tales from across the sea of Galilee, but you know how those Galileans are, so excitable, not like us civilized folks. So they bring this deaf man to Jesus – both in hope for the deaf fellow and also as a challenge to Jesus. Alright Spiritual Man, we've see you tangle with the demons, with the spirits – but is your spiritual juju so strong that it will even fix the physical world? Lay hands on Him, let's see what you got! Do you get the sense of anticipation, of excitement, of spectacle. Bring the deaf man up onto the stage and let's see what this Jesus can do, and then we can all cheer and applaud!
But that's not what Jesus does. He doesn't say, “Oh, is that what you want – well (smack hands together), come on, be healed!” and smack the deaf man upside the head like some religious huckster. Listen to what Jesus does - “And taking him aside from the crowd privately....” It's not a show people. It's not a spectacle. It's not entertainment time. Rather, this fellow here is in bad shape. Consider. He's deaf. And Jesus has walked into town, and they say, “Let's get deaf bob, get him healed” - so they picked this guy up and dragged him through a crowd – and they didn't have sign language back then, so he may not even have a clue as to what is going on. And let's say that Jesus did heal him in front of the crowd – what would they have done? Cheered like mad – so suddenly you go from being deaf to where the first thing you hear is the roar of the crowd. It would have been really messed up and confusing. That ain't right – that's not how you do it. So Jesus pulls the guy aside – let me deal with you one on one.
“He put His fingers in his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Now that Jesus has the fellow's attention – Jesus touches his ears, his tongue. I'm going to deal with these for you – you've been brought for a healing. You get that? You understand? And when the fellow knows what is going on – then Jesus acts. And note how He heals – because Jesus is teaching here. The crowd wanted Jesus to fix things by laying his hand on – letting his mojo flow, something like that. That's not what Jesus does. As the deaf man watches, Jesus acts. “Looking up to heaven, He signed and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Do you see what Jesus teaches? Alright fella – I'm looking to heaven because this is a spiritual thing going on here, and it needs a Divine, heavenly answer. I hope you all didn't think I was just making stuff up when I said physical aliments had a spiritual component – it's right here in the text, that's why Jesus, to explain what He's doing looks up and sighs, looks up and acts out a prayer. And then Jesus speaks – Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate speaks a word. He says “be opened”... and things are opened. That's actually a pretty basic lesson on the relationship between the spiritual and the physical – between God and His creation. When God speaks, what He says happens. Be light – there is light. Be opened – the ears are opened. The very first thing this guy hears is the very Word that gives Him hearing. Which is all sorts of wondrous.
And then we get the ending that folks often get confounded by. “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” This idea consternates people. Well, why wouldn't Jesus want them telling everyone? There's been many theories, possible explanations. I tend to take it this way – they are already on the verge of a frenzy. Jesus doesn't want them any more whipped up – because generally when He heals, He also preaches – because, you know, Spiritual things. The Spirit gives life. Except if they are all busy running around and gabbing, they don't get to listen. Wait, come back, we haven't had the sermon yet... oh. Well, there they go. There's a time to listen, to get to the fullness of what is going on. “And they were astonished beyond all measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” They get that they have seen creation restored. “He has done all things well” - that's the same language you get in Genesis 1 at the end of each of the days of creation – and it was good. They understand that they've seen a fantastic miracle of creation, of things being put right.
But this was just the appetizer. It's not the main course. Jesus comes to fix things. He is the Righteous One who comes bringing righteousness. He comes to justify things. And this is certainly a fixing – it's a making things right... but because the fellow was still a sinner in a sinful world, you do know what happened? Well, this deaf man who was healed. He's long since died. His body isn't hearing things at the moment, his tongue isn't talking right now. Neither are any of the folks in that crowd. Fixing the guys ears for a time – that's just an appetizer, that's just a temporary fix. And Jesus moves on to the greater fix. Because again, all these physical problems flow from a greater spiritual problem – the problem of sin and death. So that is what Jesus really has to deal with. The very Word of God Himself becomes man, strides right smack dab into the middle of death – goes to the Cross and dies... to justify mankind, to place His righteousness over and against sin and death – to wipe out death. Jesus rises to bring this justification to light, to ensure that every single person who has suffered death on account of sin is raised to life, a life where their ears work and their tongues work because that's the way He had created us to be in the beginning and He wasn't going to let Satan mess that up.
You see, the big fix, the big healing wasn't the deaf guy hearing. However, because Jesus dies and rises – that deaf man who has since died – well, he's going to be raised. He's going to hear the trumpet, the cry of the archangel and be raised – and then his mouth will rightly sing Christ's praise for all eternity. Us as well. This actually plays in with the next section of Mark – chapter 8 begins with the feeding of the 4000 – and they are all excited then too... but no, that feeding was just an appetizer. The real feast comes on the Last Day, when we are brought in full to the feast of the Lamb that has no end.
And what of us? Well, we're in a better spot – we know that Christ has died and risen – we see a bit more clearly what is to come. Granted, we are still sinners in a sinful world with bodies that age and fall apart. Jesus healed the deaf man who had a speech impediment – and yet here I am, preaching even with my own speech all messed up to a congregation where there's a whole bunch of you who if not deaf don't quite hear right. We're still in this world – but Christ Jesus calls us to this place to see beyond just the hum-drum cold realities of this world. He makes us to see spiritual truths. You are baptized, you are forgiven, you go in peace, you join in His Supper. These are all things we see now, realities we have now – but they will blossom in full come the last day. You who were washed clean in your baptism and joined to Christ's resurrection there at the font – you have that now – but you'll see it more come the last day. You have forgiveness now, your sin is gone now – but come the last day when you are raised the former things won't even be remembered, all lingering guilt will be gone. You have peace now, but you get buffeted constantly by the world and your sinful flesh – again, come the Last Day – just peace. And with the Supper – well, we get the foretaste of the feast to come – a bit of bread and a small cup of wine is hardly a hearty appetizer – but your seat at the eternal feast is well prepared, and when all is ready, Christ will call you to that feast, and nothing, not sin, not death, not Satan will be able to get in you way, nothing will be able to separate you from that loving feast of God. Why?
Because you are justified. Because Christ Jesus loves to justify people – to make them just and right and proper and good and how they were meant to be. Even as He's on His way to the cross, He does a little touch up work on the way – guy, let's fix those ears and that tongue for a bit – but His focus is always on the true prize, having you redeemed from sin and death and with Him for all eternity. Jesus justifies you – He gives you life, life you see now in part, and then in full. And so now, we'll go on with service – I'll slur my way through the liturgy and we'll hit the ocassional off-key note in our singing, and we'll creak our way to the altar – justified now yet looking towards the completion come the Last Day. And it will come – for you are justified by Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +